The waiting room of the Highland Hospital ER in Oakland, California, is full for 1,000 reasons unrelated to the rough area surrounding it. People lacking health insurance or (in many cases) benefits have no choice but to wait until their conditions merit emergency attention and then hit the ER, where they'll sit until one of Highland's terribly limited beds becomes available. The stress and frustration, to say nothing of the pain and fear of those waiting, reads like a slow-motion battlefield, and the nurse at the front lines is a stunningly chill woman, a thin but matronly lady who "could be your gramma." The number of angry giants she calms and children she makes confident makes you wish Disney would scrap the whole princess tradition and start a new costume and action figure line starring this nurse. When a swearing man meets her in line, her calm castigating sets him straight with an old fashioned "now you can't get what you want in the manner you're asking," while somehow not leaving him neutered or struggling for turf. The sensitivity is glorious and the film manages it without inciting compassion fatigue (a predictable hazard for a story like this). In fact, over-playing compassion is broadly punished: when the energetic young ER doc has to tell a mother her 15-year-old son has been shot and killed, his superior dresses him down: "he didn't "expire" or "go to a better place," Doctor, he "died" or is "dead." Do you understand?" The hospital is full of amazing people, but the system seems impossible: a man demands the doctor remove his dialysis tubes and let him "make it on my own" because "it isn't worth it." But when a junkie can't be released from his bed because his pastor won't let him back into the shelter, the film challenges the notion it's made in hopes of boosting socialized health care. There's more to it than a black-and-white political conclusion, and the laundry list of California documentary heroes in the credits suggests this film is humanist before it's agenda driven. Efficiently composed, if less than pointed in its message-making, this doc gives you real hell and heroism in under 90-minutes. When that ER nurse returns to her admissions desk the next morning, heroism looks like the honor bestowed upon those who receive each dawn with the hope God intends for them.
Distributor: International Film Circuit
Director: Peter Nicks
Running time: 81 min.
Release date: September 26 NY